Thursday Night Movie Club
The Birds
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Release Date: 28 March 1963

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Tippi Hedren
Suzanne Pleshette
Rod Taylor
Jessica Tandy
Veronica Cartwright
Ethel Griffies
Charles McGraw
Doreen Lang
Ruth McDevitt
Joe Mantell
Malcolm Atterbury
Karl Swenson
Elizabeth Wilson
Lonny Chapmanv
Doodles Weaver
Richard Deacon
Melanie Daniels
Annie Hayworth
Mitch Brenner
Lydia Brenner
Cathy Brenner
Mrs. Bundy - Ornithologist
Sebastian Sholes - Fisherman in Diner
Hysterical Mother in Diner
Mrs. MacGruder - Pet Store Clerk
Traveling Salesman at Diner's Bar
Deputy Al Malone
Drunken Doomsayer in Diner
Helen Carter
Deke Carter - Diner Owner
Fisherman Helping with Rental Boat
Mitch Brenner's neighbor
The Birds movie poster #1 The Birds movie poster #2
Tippi Hedron as Melanie Daniels in 'The Birds'Anyone reading the screenplay for The Birds would probably say, "Yeah, so?" Under the more-than-capable hands of director Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds is a masterpiece of horror and suspense. By the time the film ends, the mere sound of bird wings flapping is enough to send the audience jumping out of their seats.

The suspense, foreboding and dread is unrelenting. A simple boat ride in a dingy is enough to raise your blood pressure. Hitchcock likes to add humor to his movies to bring the audience back to solid ground. In the humorous diner sequence however, the humor is immediately cut off by the next spoken line. This technique goes back and forth until the audience is dizzy from the roller coaster ride.

Hitchcock cleverly leaves many questions unanswered. The ending is the most obvious example. Another question is: How much of the actions of the birds is revenge on Melanie Daniels for keeping birds in cages? As one frantic patron in the town restaurant asks, "This started when you came to town. Who are you?"

Tippi Hedron as Melanie Daniels in 'The Birds'The Birds begins in San Francisco where rich, heiress, socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) stops into a pet store to check on her order of a mynah bird. (Note: Imagine Melanie Daniels as the precursor to Paris Hilton) Also entering the shop is lawyer Mitch Brenner (Taylor) who immediately recognizes Ms. Daniels and decides to play a joke on her. A verbal seduction scene unfolds as Brenner implies that Daniels is an employee and she plays along until the inevetible mishap, a bird is set free in the shop. After the bird is caught, Brenner replies, "Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels." Foreshadowing of things to come? The audience can debate this 'til the swallows come back to Capistrano!

Disaster strikes "out of the blue" once Daniels travels to Bodega Bay. She wants to surprise Brenner with a pair of love birds for Brenner's sister Cathy (Cartwright). Hitchcock takes an innocent scene of Daniels motoring in a dinghy to deliver the birds into a "grab the armrests" sequence. Point-of-View shots dominate the scene which also serves to set up similar sequences throughout the remainder of the film. Hitchcock coyly builds suspense until the game of "cat and mouse" between Daniels and Brenner is over and everyone is safe. WHAM! A seagull swoops out of nowhere and attacks Daniels! After this shot, the simple sound of bird wings flapping is enough to raise anyone's blood pressure.

Tippi Hedron as Melanie Daniels in 'The Birds'Daniels is at a cross-road in her life. She is maturing from the wild teenager into a woman who, after her encounter with Brenner in the pet shop, begins to realize that there may be more to life than spending Daddy's money. She is clearly intrigued with Brenner but she is unable to face the truth, so she lies to everyone. Daniels tells Brenner she only came to Bodega Bay to visit an old friend from college, local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Pleshette). Daniels gets more than she bargained for in Hayworth. As Annie recounts how she met Mitch Brenner, fell in love and moved to Bodega Bay to be near him, her story is eerily similar to Melanie Daniels' circumstances for being in the town.

Standing firmly, unbudgingly is Brenner's mother Lydia (Tandy). After her husband's untimely death, Lydia has become gripped in the fear of abandonment. She can't see that she would be gaining a daughter, only losing a son. She can't bear this and so she is purposely cold to any woman who might take Mitch away from her.

Mitch Brenner is facing his own cross-road of life. He isn't getting any younger. He already lost one woman that he loved. Now he faces another opportunity for love and happiness yet he is devoted to his mother. Lydia is dependent on Mitch. Mitch is responsible for Lydia. Hitchcock has set up a classic love/hate "quadrangle". Who wouldn't have a problem when faced with Brenner's situation? Hitchcock uses these conflicting emotions to help understand the characters as well as add another level of suspense.

Tippi Hedron as Melanie Daniels in 'The Birds'But, The Birds is the story of flocks of birds gone amock. A seagull flies into Annie Hayworth's front door. While relaxing with brandy and coffee after dinner, the Brenner house hold is suddenly attacked by a swarm of sparrows flying down the chinmey. One of Lydia's neighbors is having the same trouble with his chickens as Lydia. Gulls suddenly attack children at a birthday party.

Some people in the audience may not be ready for the suddenness of the birds' attacks, even after multiple viewings of the film. A man pumping gas is hit by a gull. No one sees this coming. A sunny, calm day is suddenly turned into utter chaos. Hitchcock shoots another short, but classic sequence while gulls attack the town of Bodega Bay. A stream of gasoline is ignited. People in the restaurant frantically try to warn those outside. As the trail of gas burns towards the pump, Hitchcock cuts to the frantic people. In the shot, everyone is screaming and waving their arms, except for Tippi Hedron who is "frozen in shock" in the center of the frame. This seems a goofy sequence but it is quite effective.

The ending of the film seems a bit hokey. After the attack on the town, most of the residents of Bodega Bay have left. Mitch Brenner decides to board up his house and wait out the night. Why? Well, there wouldn't be much of an ending to the film if he just up and leaves.

Tippi Hedron as Melanie Daniels in 'The Birds'The finale comes when crows and seagulls attack the Brenner residence. Of all the places to attack, why this house? Does it have something to do with Melanie Daniels and the caged love birds? Who knows? Who really cares? There is absolute silence in the house. No one speaks. There is nothing to say or do but sit and wait. The wing flapping of a single bird is enough for the Brenner's and the audience to leap out of their seats. The gulls and crows attack from all sides, kind of like The Night of the Living Dead with birds attacking instead of zombies! The birds will get into the house. The only question is "When?".

Hitchcock uses the Point-Of-View (POV) shots throughout this film. This technique brings the audience into what the characters are seeing. Once the audience is accustomed to this technique, Hitchcock uses it to set up the grand finale. After the attack, everyone is asleep except Melanie Daniels. The sound of bird wings and cooing attracts her attentiion. She decides to investigate, on her own. No! Don't do it! The beam of a flashlight leads Daniels and the audience up the staircase, the menacing staircase and the closed door at the top. Don't open the door! Don't open the door! Why is she opening the door? Hitchcock leaves the audience with no choice but to follow Daniels up the stairs. White-knuckle time, anyone? You can hear a pin drop on a carpeted floor during this sequence.

One of the most amazing aspects of The Birds is the lack of any music tracks to enhance the scene. Instead, Hitchcock uses the sounds of silence. Musical composer Bernard Herrmann, who has written several scores for Hitchcock's films, is on hand here to use music as bird calls and sounds. The effect is eerie. The title sequence is nothing but crows flying across the screen with cawing sound effects.

Monsters, zombies, werewolves, vampires, etc. are scary in their own right. But actual living creatures, that we are all familiar with suddenly becoming a marauding army, is a fear in which we can all relate. Hitchcock doesn't need monsters to scare the pants off of people. Reality is scary enough! Enjoy The Birds! Over and over... if you dare!